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Dev Biol. 1990 May;139(1):149-68.

Gliogenesis in rat optic nerve: astrocytes are generated in a single wave before oligodendrocytes.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan 48201.


The time of origin for astrocytes in the rat optic nerve was investigated to determine whether this cell type is generated in two waves, a first wave which occurs before the formation of oligodendrocytes and a second wave which occurs after the peak period of oligodendrocyte formation. To answer this question, multiple injections of radioactive thymidine were administered to rats after the peak period of oligodendrocyte production in the optic nerve and the animals were sacrificed several weeks after the first injection. Thymidine-labeled cells in the optic nerve were identified with the electron microscope. Of the labeled cells, greater than 80% are oligodendrocytes, 4% are microglia, 2% are astrocytes, and the remainder are unclassifiable. The thymidine-labeled cells in the nerve were not immunostained for glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), a marker characteristic of astrocytes. The number of thymidine-labeled glia generated after the second postnatal week is a small fraction of the total number of glia generated neonatally. No evidence exists for a second wave of astrocyte formation in the rat optic nerve as has been suggested in a study by Miller et al. (1985, Dev. Biol. 111, 35-41); rather, the vast majority of astrocytes are generated during the first 2 postnatal weeks and these data are in keeping with classical studies of gliogenesis. The question of whether astrocytes in the rat optic nerve arise directly from division of an undifferentiated, common progenitor cell or from a cell committed to the astrocyte lineage was addressed by combining thymidine autoradiography with GFAP immunocytochemistry. Rats were sacrificed 1 hr after an injection of thymidine and their nerves were processed for GFAP immunocytochemistry and autoradiography. During the first postnatal week, many thymidine-labeled cells are immunostained for GFAP. These observations demonstrate that cells committed to the astrocyte lineage divide neonatally and give rise to additional astrocytes.

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